Her too: Second woman accuses Cuomo of sexual harassment

Trump

When the Andrew Cuomo story is finally written, “Cuomosexual” will mean something very different than it did nine months ago.

He’s been governor for 10 years and was state attorney general for four before that, which made it exceedingly unlikely that Lindsey Boylan was the only woman he’s ever used his power to harass. Either Cuomo was innocent and Boylan was smearing him for reasons known only to her or there would be other accusers. Last night the other shoe dropped at the Times: There’s another accuser.

It’s on-brand for America 2021 that grossly mismanaging a pandemic that’s killed tens of thousands of people in his state wasn’t sufficient in itself to end Cuomo’s career, but whatever. If this is what ends up bringing his reign of terror and error to an end, so much the better.

This makes three governors in a row in New York who’ve had scandals of a sexual nature, by the way.

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[Charlotte] Bennett, 25, said the most unsettling episode occurred on June 5, when she was alone with Mr. Cuomo in his State Capitol office. In a series of interviews this week, she said the governor had asked her numerous questions about her personal life, including whether she thought age made a difference in romantic relationships, and had said that he was open to relationships with women in their 20s — comments she interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship…

On May 15, she said she arrived at the Capitol around 7 a.m. to find Mr. Cuomo already at work. Ms. Bennett was there to drop off some briefing papers, but Mr. Cuomo was chatty, asking about her love life and, in a gossipy way, whether she was involved with other members of the governor’s staff

[On June 5], Ms. Bennett said, the governor also started to ask questions about her personal life, including whether she was romantically involved, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and whether she had ever had sex with older men

At one juncture, Ms. Bennett said, the governor also noted that he felt “he’s fine with anyone above the age of 22,” a point that came up after they discussed her speech at Hamilton on what was her 25th birthday.

At one point she told him she was thinking of getting a tattoo and he suggested getting it on her butt so that people couldn’t see it. There’s also this weird exchange from the May 15 meeting:

Ms. Bennett said she had mentioned a speech she was scheduled to give to Hamilton students about her experience as a survivor of sexual assault. She said she had been taken aback by Mr. Cuomo’s seeming fixation on that element of her life experience.

“The way he was repeating, ‘You were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed,’ over and over again while looking me directly in the eyes was something out of a horror movie,” she wrote in a second text to her friend. “It was like he was testing me.”

He never touched her, Bennett acknowledges, but maybe that’s because she cut off their interactions after the June 5 encounter, reporting Cuomo to his chief of staff and to one of his special counsels. They were sympathetic, she says; the chief of staff transferred her to a new job on the other side of the Capitol, which was evidently agreeable to Bennett, and she declined to pursue an investigation into Cuomo with the lawyer. Which nonetheless raises the question: How many other distressed young women have come to his aides over the years asking for help? How open, exactly, is the open secret of Cuomo’s behavior among his deputies?

The fact that Bennett reported her conversations with Cuomo at the time — nine months ago, after which she was silent until now — means there’s no doubt that something happened to distress her. The Times has also seen contemporaneous text messages with friends about what Cuomo allegedly said to her and spoken to intimates of Bennett who confirm that she told them at the time that he crossed the line. The only questions are whether her recollection of what he said is accurate and whether his intentions were as lascivious as she thought. Could Andrew Cuomo be so tone-deaf and socially maladjusted that he simply didn’t realize chatting up a 25-year-old aide about her love life and telling her that he’s open to dating women in their 20s might be taken as a come-on?

Even Cuomo’s not that stupid, right?

Last night his spokesman said that the matter would be taken up as part of an “independent” investigation into Boylan’s sexual harassment allegation against him. Funny thing, though: The person he wanted in charge didn’t seem so independent.

That’s not the first time an “independent” panel set up by Cuomo to study wrongdoing that could potentially damage him seemed teed up to protect him instead. Fearing a whitewash, a variety of New York Democrats put out statements last night emphasizing that Bennett’s claims need to be taken seriously and that the probe needs to be *truly* independent, not led by some crony’s friend:

Heastie is the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, one of the few people in the state with real power to oust Cuomo potentially. You can see a clear theme across those tweets — the attorney general, Tish James, should decide who investigates Cuomo, not Cuomo. Such was the backlash from his own party that Cuomo’s office issued a new statement a few hours ago yielding on that demand. Okay, he said, let James (and the courts) make the appointment, not me:

James says she’s ready to do her duty but requires a formal referral of the matter from the governor’s office — and she wants subpoena power. Politically, whether Cuomo survives or not probably depends now on how many other accusers there are. (Remember that Boylan claimed last week that she’d spoken to *two* other women over the past few months who said they’d had similar experiences with Cuomo, but they were too afraid to speak up at the time.) The lesson of political scandal in the age of short attention spans, from Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape to Ralph “Coonman” Northam’s blackface fiasco, is that if you simply hang on and weather the initial bad press the public will eventually forget about it. That’s trickier for Cuomo since his party claims to care deeply about #MeToo issues and he’s at least theoretically vulnerable to a primary next year, especially after his nursing-home scandal. But you can imagine him saying, “I never touched anyone. If I’m guilty of being overly friendly in my conversations with women staffers, I apologize. I meant no harm.”

Given the decades of electoral muscle memory in New York for pulling the lever for guys named “Cuomo,” does anyone doubt that that would *probably* work? Unless many more women come forward, or some Eric-Schneiderman-style claim of physical abuse is made, he’s still the favorite for reelection. That’s where the otherwise well-taken analogy between Cuomo and Michael Avenatti breaks down. Both were wrongly elevated as heroes by an anti-Trump press, both appear to be incompetent egomaniacs who abused the trust of those who dealt with them, both have suffered a fall from grace, but Cuomo’s sins are political, not legal, in a state dominated by his own party. At the end of the day, there are likely enough zombified Democratic voters in New York to make him governor for as long as he wants the job.

I’ll leave you with this from longtime Cuomo enemy Alessandra Biaggi, a state senator in New York. Most local Democrats won’t go further than calling for an independent probe for now but Biaggi wants to pull the trapdoor on her nemesis. If there’s a third, a fourth, a fifth accuser, other members of her party will begin to shift towards her position. Stay tuned.

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